The building in which the Orange Hostel in Cracow is located, looks downright dodgy but since it’s on the 4th floor I figure a thief has to be really desperate to climb all those steps in order to rob some poverty stricken backpackers so I sleep soundly and wake up to the view across some fields towards the Planty and the Old Town.
It’s hard to resist a 4 km jog around the green that encircles the ancient walls even though it’s raining. At Wawel Castle I learn about coffered ceilings with heads eerily looking down on you and cordovan walls, engraved leather taken from the rump of a horse. But it’s the ‘milk bar’ experience that brings me down to reality. Bar Krakus in the Podgorze district is said to be one of the best in town. Amongst students, overalled workers and men dressed in suits, I tuck in to a side plate of 3 different salads pushing the rim, a dinner plate filled to capacity of chicken and potato stuffed pirogues and a bottle of water for a total of 8 Zlotys (€2!) These eating joints were introduced to minimize the Polish consumption of vodka, or so I’m told, but their main function was to supply workers who had no access to a canteen, a cheap, healthy meal.
There is a heaviness here too, or maybe it’s just me. The Schindler Factory opens my eyes to the trams with signs that read ‘No Jews allowed’, the walls that look like tombstones surrounding the ghetto, the beautifully written letter in cursive script by a 5-year old boy no less, expressing his fears.
Auschwitz and Birkenau is grueling, stifling, claustrophobic, shocking beyond belief and it’s the mountains of hair, baby shoes and barracks fit for animals that get the tears rolling. The SS guards had a choice – the front or the massacre of the innocent. There was no excuse.
The Old Town is just too touristy after all I had seen and heard and I simply cannot face the salt mines of Wieliczka and I confine myself perhaps stupidly to the Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz in a sense of solidarity. Besides it’s cheaper and even in the fine Restaurant Sasiedzi with white table cloths and professional service where I decide to treat myself to a starter of Zurek Staropolski which means something like ‘old style Polish soup’ made of cream, potatoes, egg, sausage and a potato pancake with goulash taken to a different level and 2 large glasses of red wine, it sets me back a royal 40 Zlotys (€10). Heavy stuff, the food I mean, and it’s time for bed not before a long detoured walk to let it all settle.
Read about Prague, Czech Republic in Bussing Through the Baltics 4